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Gender and Sexuality

Graduate Conference Series

This Graduate Conference Series is a well-established forum of all those interested in the historical dimensions of gender, sexuality, feminism and masculinity. We encourage submissions from Masters and PhD students, as well as early career researchers, working on gender and sexuality (broadly defined) from any time period.

Although gender and sexuality are the overriding themes of the workshop, we welcome submissions that consider how these themes can be applied to a broader range of historical events, periods, mentalités, people or processes. Most of those who attend the workshop regularly do not necessarily consider themselves gender scholars, but have nevertheless welcomed the opportunity that the workshop provides to consider the historical role that gender can play in even the seemingly unlikeliest of situations. 

The workshop provides an opportunity to present finished or work-in-progress research to a friendly and supportive audience of your peers. Papers are likely to be 20-30 minutes in length, but we welcome submissions for longer formats or shorter paired papers for panel discussion. The format and length are flexible and the paper can be given in the manner that best suits the presenter’s material with discussion to follow.

We meet fortnightly in term at Clare College, on Wednesdays, for an hour from 13:00. A light lunch will be provided.


Fred E. Smith (fes40)

Owen Brittan (ob293)

Katarzyna Brzezinska (

George J. Severs (

Michaelmas 2017 Schedule

11th October - Asiya Islam and Owen Brittan

The New Woman: 150 Years of British and Indian Women's Magazines

Until very recently you could easily make the case that magazines and newspapers were the most popular form of media dating back to the seventeenth century. While women’s magazines have commonly been dismissed as trivial on the basis that they are all about fashion, relationships, and domesticity, they offer a rich area for inquiry. The editors and owners of these publications wielded enormous normative power to both reflect upon and shape culture. Women’s magazines not only provided a forum for women to develop a sense of shared experiences but have also been at times instrumental in feminist movements.  In both India and the UK, women’s magazines have long and complex histories that reflect the changing attitudes of the day. This talk will trace the changing portrayal of women in print throughout the last 150 years and examine how historical events in both countries influenced these portrayals, where they diverged, and where they converged within an increasingly globalised society.


18th October - Dr Naomi Pullin

Faithless Friends: Women's Sociability and Conflict in the Long-Seventeenth Century

In his popular treatise De amicitia, Cicero noted that ‘Some men are better served by their bitter-tongued enemies than by their sweet-smiling friends’. But even today the question of who constitutes an enemy or a friend remains unresolved.  Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Britain has been characterised an age of 'sociability' and 'politeness', with the growth of spaces for sociable interaction such as the tea table, coffee house, salon, and new reading and writing practices. Much scholarly attention has recently been devoted to the friendly exchanges that took place between women during this moment of social and cultural transformation. However, few have acknowledged the tensions inherit in these relationships, or the ways in which an emerging culture of civility and politeness enhanced discussions about enmity and hostility. This paper seeks to question whether there was a specifically gendered dimension to female antagonism at this time by probing both the theory and practice of friendship in Britain in the long-seventeenth century. Using evidence drawn from published treatises, as well as the diaries and letters penned by women, it aims to present some preliminary ideas about the activities, conditions and behaviours that could at once 'make' and 'break' female intimacies.


25th October - Susanne Schmidt

Rethinking the double standard: Feminist constructions of aging in twentieth-century America

Middle age is often associated with a “double standard” (Susan Sontag) according to which maturity is good for men, who reach their “prime of life,” but bad for women, whose aging is pathologized. But consider the understanding of midlife as the moment of a woman’s reinvention. The case of the “midlife crisis” offers a good example of this idea: it became popular with the American journalist Gail Sheehy’s best-selling Passages (1976) as a concept which described the onset of middle age as the moment when a woman would re-enter the world of work (while men often dropped out). In this talk, I study positive and critical concepts of midlife change, put forward in political treatises, social scientific and medical studies, best-selling books and self-help literature, and ask in what ways did women (and some men) use middle age for feminist purposes? Paying attention to “feminist voices” (Alexandra Rutherford) changes our understanding of the double standard about middle age. I show that feminist critique and empowering concepts of aging were integral to public debates about gender and the life course. Women drew on “prime of life” imagery, just like men, to describe middle life as the end of problems of motherhood and the beginning of liberation into public and professional lives and careers. Celebrations of aging sometimes explicitly opposed the double standard, yet they were more than defensive critiques: constructions of midlife liberation formed a stable system of thought in its own right, throughout the twentieth century, eliciting response and backlash, which attested to their currency and influence.


22nd November - Georgia Oman

Women’s higher education and the gendering of physical space in nineteenth-century Cambridge

In this paper, I will explore how gender was encoded in the physical space of the University of Cambridge in the late-nineteenth century, shaping how male and female students interacted with both the built environment and each other. As much as universities were sites of knowledge production and transmission, they were also geographical locations that both male and female students had to traverse and negotiate on a day-to-day basis. I will argue that coeducation in practice consisted of both segregation and integration defined by relation to physical space, while the gender divide it brought about was manifested architecturally, through the design and modification of shared and separate spaces.